My Mother’s Roosters

Published in The Britton Journal on May 31, 2017

The first ones I remember were on the napkin basket that showed up on our kitchen table when I was young. Standing in pairs on each side are two-inch tall iron cutouts of a rooster with his sharp, distinctive face and pruned up tail feathers.

Then they started appearing in the calendar that hangs in the kitchen to keep track of extended family birthdays and anniversaries and had scribbled in reminders for dentist appointments. Each month for years is a new image of a handsome rooster, watching over our family business.

I don’t know when the roosters started to become a “thing”—when they moved beyond a repeated image to a set-in-stone decorating theme for the kitchen. But while I wasn’t paying attention, the room became a coop. Rooster towels, rooster figurines, rooster magnets, a rooster soap dispenser, rooster paintings, rooster cutting boards, rooster flour and sugar jars, and, my favorite, a rooster toothpick holder—a small tabletop glass rooster figurine with tiny holes all over its body for toothpicks to be poked into for easy access. Imagine a rooster porcupine if you’re having trouble picturing it.  

I ask my mother, “Why roosters?” She says that she just likes them. They’re “farmish”—fitting for our country home on the outskirts of a small South Dakota dairy and farming town.

The rooster gets its name from its daily routine of sitting on a high perch, as high as 5 feet off the ground, to guard over the general congregation area where his hens nest, and he attacks any other rooster that enters his territory. As an animal that is nearly impossible to intimidate, its essence is a symbol that spans across several religions and cultures. The Chinese see the rooster as a symbol for the five virtues – civil responsibility, marital fidelity, courage, kindness, and confidence. Taoists see the rooster as a Divine messenger. Astrologically, Orion has a rooster companion as he delivers his messages to the gods.

But the rooster also finds a place amongst the trendy concept of “spirit animals.” Where the panther symbolizes death and rebirth, the whale communication, and the dolphin harmony, the rooster is seen as an indication of improvement. The rooster teaches the lesson of using your voice. The animal calls for the timid.

This mantra seems fitting. Because on the counter in the shadow of a sign that reads “Life’s Good in the Coop,” is a piece of paper where my mother keeps count of the doses taken of her prescriptions throughout the day to keep sharp pains at bay. This is a routine that has continued for years and has become her new normal and also, maybe, a normalcy echoed by the constant intake of roosters. In this space of her home are dozens of colorful, roosting reminders to use her voice, to stand tall.

To, in spite of it all, rise and shine.